Just off Beak Street, round the corner from Lexington, sits Third Man Records; Jack White’s label and its first store outside the USA.  Bumblebee branding greets you, surrounds you, escorts you, there’s even yellow and black tiling in the toilets that myself and my plus one fully appreciated.  He also fully appreciated the complimentary cupcakes, put out exclusively to support the launch event for Gina Birch’s debut solo album; I Play My Bass Loud, out on the Third Man Records label now.  “Good cupcake” says plus one, Chris, loving particularly the Gina Birch covered icing… apparently.  Whilst I swooned over the branded record players and photography walls. Friendly store manager; Molly, informs us that the gig tonight is downstairs in the basement.  I’ve not been to an intimate basement gig standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers since pre-pandemic days, but it’s fine, turns out basement gigs are muscle memory and soon I’m back to nursing a pint between walls of bodies like a total gig pro.  There’s even someone tall in my way – yay – like old times.  The Third Man basement is cool, with cool spearmint lighting and a cool blue stage with a Lego style back wall – very Gondry, who directed a White Stripes video, is this a nod to that I wonder?  The band (The Unreasonables – Jenny Green and Marie Marlei) and Gina Birch arrive onstage dressed in striking outfits full of colour and they look great on the Lego stage with the mint lighting.  

Photo: Sadie Hasler

“Rage. I am rage” , is how Birch steers us into the opening song and what a way to start. I love it, as do the crowd, who all seem to be having a great time with happy gig faces abound.  All 3 women onstage play their electric guitars in unison at the end of the song. The sound is decent, not your usual dingy basement foggy PA at all.  You would assume it’s decent if Jack White’s involved.  Birch softly speaks to the room, “I used to live in Westbourne Grove, it was great in the 70s, the streets were like our own but then the rich people moved in, a banker moved in next to me and there were all sorts of noises, drilling etc, so I wrote a song about it, Digging Down is the song, a dub-pop number with reggae beats, chilled pace, Hammond organ, great harmonies – this is a dream for Jack White’s speakers, the bass IS loud and the audience are bobbing along to the dub, like giant babies in baby bouncers, myself and baby Chris Plus One included.  Talk about turning a negative into a positive Gina!  Feminist Song is next, beginning with spoken word giving the lyrics added power.  It’s a brilliant song with DIY spirit, humour and honesty.  

Birch nearly bumps her head a few times whilst shrieking “I’ll never wear stilettos” on next song; I Will Never Wear Stilettos.  It’s a small stage and Birch brings presence, she is unapologetic and defiant, we all feel it in the audience as we sing along with her.  Dance Like a Demon is another one that seems to ignite the audience, the beats and reverb sound exciting, the guitar playing is sheer excellence.  I look round at the crowd and we’re all looking straight at Gina and the band, transfixed, into it.  I Wish I Was You is next and straight away it’s a banger, a total anthem, grunge-y-90s-guitar-fuzz, reminding me of The Breeders or L7.  Absolute hit.  I am loving this gig, beaming like there’s more in my branded beer than just hops, the adrenaline from the stage is infectious. The last song played is the title track, I Play My Bass Loud, where all 3 women in the band play their bass’s at the same time, the sight is mesmerising and they almost visually merge into the cubes in the back wall.  This is a fun poppy dub song with beats, everyone is dancing in the audience as Birch screeches “louuuud” in the chorus.  The set ends in an organised and professional manner, we chant for more but there’s no chance as the band swiftly depart into a tiny sea of album people and fans.  I thank Birch herself and tell her how much I loved it, she is smiling and friendly and tells me to “come to Rough Trade tomorrow!”  I’m pleased to tell her, “I’ll be there!” before returning upstairs to the bumblebee room.  I’ve missed intimate basement gigs.  Tomorrow’s gig will be the exact same performance at Rough Trade East, with Gina signing copies of her record afterwards.  The Raincoats, the 70s experimental punk band that Birch formed with Ana da Silva, were one of the first bands signed to the Rough Trade label so tomorrow’s venue is pretty special.

Photo: Jo Overfield

This time it’s Friday night in east London, and The Ten Bells round the corner is heaving. There’s no time for street food, and Rough Trade is filling up already.  My plus one tonight is my friend, Sadie, and we grab a cider at the pop-up bar/counter as we entered through the devil red lighting.  We eye up the books, lots of books, lovely music books and vinyl, lovely vinyl, before floating towards the venue side of the store.  Gigs in shops is quite a pleasing thing.  I can see a band live, buy their record, buy a book, buy a beer and it finishes before the last train home.  This is satisfying.  Part of the inside merch has been cleared aside to make room for gig space – very cool!  It feels like a warehouse party. Large, factory style building with exposed beams. A dark room with a large disco ball providing dots of light, the toilet doors are covered in graffiti such as “enjoy your wee or poo” and “I hear noises”.  It’s a much larger space than last night and the stage is raised and bigger, makes me feel lucky I got to see Gina in the cool blue basement where it felt very personal. 

Birch opens again with I Am Rage, the sound is good and the crowd pay attention to the spoken word intro.  Birch can really command a stage.  With tonight’s gig, I pay closer attention to Merlei and Green, Marie Merlei on keys is impressive, bringing the Hammond organ and reggae sound to certain songs is so inspired, as well as percussion and sampling.  Jenny Green’s guitar on Digging Down is just as sharp and flawless as it was in the cool blue basement last night, this band is tight!  There’s a lot going on with all the different sounds and instruments that are used, a Stylophone comes out at one point on Feminist Song, which is not an easy thing to make sound good.  Feminist Song sounds even better tonight, it’s such a great song, Sadie Plus One agrees and seems quite inspired by it.  So if we are, how many others in the audience are?  Birch is a natural leader like that, paving the way, asking us to join her.  I will join you, Gina.  I Play My Bass Loud is the closing track and I agree with myself from the night before, that this is a great pop song, it grows on you with each listen, an earworm.  Birch and her band improvise with the “on my bass” vocals on the song.  It’s impossible NOT to dance to this song, and not to sing along, I look round at the crowd and there is a lot of giant baby bouncing but not as much as in the cool blue basement.  What is it about smaller spaces?  Do we feel more connected because we’re physically closer?  We all shout for an encore and again, denied, because there’s work to do, Birch has got a heck of a lot of records to sign, and a huge queue is building.  The Amsterdam red lights come on, me and my plus one leave in search of food whilst feeling energised, inspired and loving the album even more after seeing Gina Birch live twice in one week!  Both gigs were brilliant, I thoroughly recommend seeing Birch live if you can, you will not be disappointed, she exudes creativity and passion that you’ll find it hard to leave unaffected. 

I Play My Bass Loud is available now on Third Man Records

Gina Birch Tour 2023: 

MARCH 2023

21 – Brighton, UK – The Hope and Ruin

22 – London, UK – Oslo

24 – Glasgow, UK – The Hug and Pint

25 – Dublin, Ireland – Whelan’s

27 – Leeds, UK – Brudenell Social Club